If you ask their moms, Eric and Danielle’s love story began long before they first met.
Danielle said, “Our mothers were best friends in elementary school. They lost touch and then they ran into each other at a reunion and were pregnant with us. They joked about us meeting in the future. So really it was meant to be.”
Fast forward to present day and the couple is now a party of four. The high school sweethearts, who have been together for 13 years, just welcomed their first children, beautiful twin girls Claire and Rachel. With their dream of having children now come true, Eric and Danielle are overjoyed with the birth of their daughters – especially when reflecting upon the struggles and setbacks they experienced along the way.
Twins Were Born with a Sister’s Love
Seven years ago, Danielle was diagnosed with colon cancer. She bravely endured two years of surgeries, complications, chemotherapy and radiation treatments; which ultimately resulted in her cancer’s complete remission. Following Danielle’s courageous victory over cancer, she and Eric learned the heartbreaking news that, due to her treatments, she would not be able to conceive or carry children.
Danielle and Eric were devastated when they realized that their dreams of becoming parents may not be possible. It was in the wake of this sad news that an offer of extreme generosity and love would revive their dreams of raising a family of their own.
Natale, Eric’s older sister, told the couple, “I will be the person to make this happen for you guys.”
Medela sat down with the family to discuss their journey.
Were you expecting multiple births (twins) with this pregnancy?
Eric: None of us were! Natale was getting an ultrasound and we were in the room next door so we went in and Natale was actually the one that told us and we thought she was kidding.
Danielle: It was very surreal. We kept thinking ‘let’s hope this embryo catches, let’s hope we have a baby’ so when they said twins we were like ‘What?!’ We just couldn’t believe it.
Eric: The way the whole process worked is that we ended up having a donor egg from the United States and we fertilized that and transferred one embryo, but that embryo split and they told us it’s under a 1% chance of that embryo splitting and having identical twins – and that happened! We were so lucky that it happened on the first try.
Danielle: In Canada, they don’t transfer multiple embryos very often, because they said that if one catches there’s a 95% chance that more will catch. And with multiple births there’s more of a chance for complications. In the United States they do that more, but in Canada unless you specify that you want more they won’t really do it.
Eric: We were so lucky that it happened on the first try.
Danielle: They told us, don’t expect it to happen on the first try.
Eric: And we got 2!
At this ultrasound you found out that not only were you having twins, but that they were Monochorionic-Diamniotic (MoDi) twins! Did that make the pregnancy much different than your others?
Natale: They were mono-di twins, so they shared a placenta. It was definitely different in the sense that it was more difficult in the end for sure, and this was a C-section and I’d never had a C-section before so there are definitely things that were different.
Danielle: And just more demanding through the whole pregnancy, like we had ultrasounds every two weeks since December.
Natale, you have three young sons of your own. How did you explain the situation to them and how did they feel about you being pregnant with their cousins?
Natale: I find kids are so adaptable. We found books that are specific for the surrogate to read to explain to their kids exactly what is going on. It was neat to see how they adapted over time. They felt like they were part of the process, and when we found out it was two they asked if we could keep one! It was probably the first time that I saw my eldest really be in tune with what was going on during the pregnancy.
Danielle: It was really cute to see how each of them at their age saw the situation. Natale’s oldest came to us and said ‘Oh I told mom to do that’ and Nolan was cute at school how he would make paintings of him and the twins together.
Natale: At the hospital it was really interesting to see how one of them was really interested to see what was going on with all the machines in the NICU. The other was more concerned with how I was doing and holding my hand to make sure I was okay.
Eric: That was really cute.
The girls were born 6 weeks premature at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton and stayed in the NICU for 12 days. They were initially fed through a nasogastric tube due to their inability to balance sucking, swallowing, and breathing on their own. Once they were able to tolerate feeds and show that they were gaining weight they were discharged and the new parents could take the girls home.
How did it feel bringing the girls home for the first time?
Eric: Awesome. The days at the hospital were long, we were there for 10 hours every day.
Danielle: It was hard to come home to sleep. We slept at the hospital for the first 5 nights; they gave us a room and it was so great to be able to be close to the girls. That was really nice. They’re (St. Jo’s) amazing. That’s where I was when I was sick and it’s such a good hospital, we’ve always had such good care
Eric: It’s nice to have a happy memory at that hospital. It feels like things have come full circle.
Since the girls were in the NICU, they must have had a strict feeding schedule. What does your feeding schedule look like now that the girls are 8 weeks old and at home?
Danielle: At the beginning we had to wake them up every three hours, even in the middle of the night, to feed them. But now they’re old enough to tell us when they’re hungry. We keep them on the same schedule. The first advice everyone gave to us was get them on the same schedule, your life will be easier if you do that.
Eric: We were using [other bottles] and the milk was always coming back up or always making a mess as they were feeding. And then they get tired. For them, to go through a bottle is a lot of work so if the milk is not coming through they’re sitting there for half an hour not finishing their milk and then they’re tired so they’re not drinking. When we went to the Medela Calma their time has gone faster, they’re not making a mess, it’s changed everything. Calma has been a life changer for us. It’s been amazing.
Danielle: So good. Like night and day.
Eric: Even just having the confidence with somebody else feeding them with no experience with them we don’t even worry about it because they just feed so well with these bottles.
Natale, as a family physician, you balanced the pregnancy and running your busy practice and now you are still providing breast milk to the girls by pumping. How has pumping throughout the day affected your schedule?
Natale: The timing has been really good in terms of doing this over the summer because you don’t have as many activities with the kids and they don’t have to be ready for school. I think I’m more on time than I’ve ever been because I’m trying to make sure I can fit this in! I used Medela’s Pump in Style with my kids as well and it’s just so efficient, it doesn’t take that long so I just duck out a couple times and fit it in.
How do you get the milk to the girls?
Danielle: When we were in the NICU we did daily visits. Natale would come visit and bring milk or we would go visit her and pick up milk every day. Now it’s probably weekly when we get together and she freezes the milk.
Danielle is a teacher and is on parental leave for the school year. Eric is a firefighter and has been on parental leave for the summer, but will be returning to his 24-hour shifts starting in September.
How do you feel about the feeding process for twins, and has it been difficult finding ways to feed both at once?
Eric: I have a whole new appreciation for women who breastfeed. The alarm clock goes off in the middle of the night I’m getting up at every feed. We’ve been home every night together so the night feeds have been okay but during the day I’ve been stepping out and Danielle has been feeding them both at the same time. But with these bottles we set them down, she makes a little bed for them on the ground and props them up with a blanket around their heads, holds the bottles and just watches.
Danielle: When he goes back to work I’ll be alone 24 hours with them so that’s why I’ve been encouraging him to go out for a couple hours so I can get used to them. But I’m sure that I’ll be calling for extra help…
Natale: Of course she looks at me (laughs) I’m available until 9pm!
Danielle: Between Natale and my Mom, my Mother-In-Law, and friends, I’m sure that I’ll be set!
Is there anything that surprised you about the surrogacy process?
Danielle: There was a legal aspect to this whole process that we weren’t really aware of. In the eyes of the law, whoever carries the child is the birth mom until you prove it otherwise. So right now we’re in the process of proving that we are the parents because right now the government thinks that Natale is the mom. And that’s just the way the law is set up.
Natale: So they haven’t been able to register the births yet because we need [DNA] tests to show that I am not the mother.
Eric: We learned so much about this process, it’s been incredible the amount of stuff we’ve had to go through.
Any plans to do it again!?
Eric: Oh yeah.
Danielle: We’ve still got several embryos left waiting to be used! So hopefully maybe a third!
What do you hope people will take away from your story?
Eric: For me, the value of family and the importance of a strong bond in your family. That gave us the ultimate gift. That’s my support, my number one thing will always be family and it gets proven with an act like this.
Danielle: Just because you go through a rough patch in your life, don’t give up. If you really want something, do what you’ve got to do and you will get there. Follow your dream. It just makes you stronger. It changes your outlook on life and makes you appreciate everything to a whole other level, that’s for sure. It makes these moments even more special to say we’re still here and we’ve got these beautiful girls, and they’re miracles to us.
“We couldn’t have done it without Nat, she gave us the most amazing gift you could ever get.”
Thank you so much Danielle, Eric, and Natale for sharing your amazing story with Medela!
Hopeful parents in Ontario may be eligible for government funding for artificial insemination (AI), intra-uterine insemination (IUI), or in vitro fertilization (IVF) through Ontario’s new Fertility Program. For more information, please go here.
Surrogacy is legal in Canada, however, unlike the United States, Canadians are not legally allowed to pay a surrogate to carry a child. Under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act passed in 2004, a surrogate mother may only be reimbursed for out of pocket expenses. This form of unpaid surrogacy is called “altruistic surrogacy”. Altruism doesn’t seem to be a big enough word for the gift that Natale gave to her brother and sister-in-law.
For more information on the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, please go here.
*The statistics mentioned in the interview are what the family was told in their experience, but does not reflect the national and global statistics and probabilities for IVF and Mono-Di twins.